The budtender is the hand that feeds.
While it’s considered an entry-level position (the median salary for a budtender in the United States was $32,000 per year in 2018), the budtender is a critical role in the cannabis ecosystem. Many people who work today as managers, cultivators, producers, or even in C-suite positions, started in budtender roles.
If you want to be a part of the weed industry, becoming a budtender is a great way to get your foot in the door. The opportunity can help you learn the tricks of the cannabis trade, the plant’s extensive medical benefits, and potential uses for consumers, depending on what ails them.
While the position revolves around customer service, the budtender job description casts a very wide net. Fair warning: It’s a far cry from an easy gig. Budtenders must be the face of the dispensary to consumers, abide by county and state regulations, verify age and identification, facilitate sales, all while educating people on every facet of cannabis throughout the process. That includes both how to consume cannabis and cannabis culture. Sounds easy, peasy, right?
Here are six crucial things the prospective budtender needs to know.
The History of Budtenders (n.)
Let’s open up the jar and take a closer look at the history of the term. The San Francisco Buyers Club, the first medical dispensary in the U.S., opened in 1992 during the AIDS crisis, is the birthplace of the budtender vocation in the country. It’s a play on words combining flower or “bud” with “bartender” and referred at first to the act of weighing out and preparing the bud for sale.
The term budtender made Merriam-Webster’s official canon in March 2018. Merriam-Webster attributes the first-known use of “budtender” to 1997 by author Linda Yellin, although the exact text Merriam-Webster cites is unknown.
The position grew as medical marijuana legalization exploded through the 2000s. As medical storefronts began to open in California, Washington, and Colorado, the requirements of the budtender shifted. A job that once felt like a casual dealer who weighed out your weed gradually morphed into a more clinical advisory role. Budtenders speak directly to medical patients and address their concerns in a way that most unlicensed dealers had not.
The Modern Budtender
Enter adult-use cannabis. Modern budtenders must balance the medical patient’s needs with the recreational consumer’s wants, providing extensive product knowledge for both.
“In the beginning, a lot of people just saw it as an easy job,” said Rhea Bridwell, a four-year veteran cannabis dispensary manager based in Denver and currently working as a budtender at Boulder-born chain Terrapin Care Station. “It’s definitely not easy. I do stop and think, ‘Wow, this is a lot of pressure.’ You have to follow so many strict rules. If the budtender makes a mistake, it’s not just a slap on the wrist, it can actually impact your job, the store, the bigger picture.”
The budtender’s job description has evolved as quickly as the industry itself. Dominic Cucina, manager of Boston-based East Coast dispensary The Botanist, said that the evolution of the budtender position has been prompted by the wave of new information and data emerging about cannabis and its various forms of use every day.
“Typical conversations used to include THC percentages, whether the strain was indica or sativa, and some psychoactive effects,” Cucina said. “Now, we are in a position to talk about terpene profiles, medical benefits of cannabinoids, micro-dosing. So the amount of information required to suggest cannabis products has really been the biggest part of the evolution.”
Published: June 13, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News